When I can’t figure out how to start a review—a problem I meet fairly often—I generally look to the beginning of the movie I’m assigned to critique, hoping to find some jumping-off point for a discussion about its themes and ideas, ditto its successes and failures. But thinking back on Suicide Squad I’m not exactly sure where or when its story actually does begin.
Maybe in its very first moments, when we meet an imprisoned Deadshot (Will Smith) trading barbs with a sadistic prison guard (Ike Barinholtz)? Or perhaps when government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) rallies her Washington underlings to ordain a team of supervillains on retainer just in case a completely separate supervillain goes apeshit and threatens to take over the planet? Or maybe it begins when one specific supervillain goes ape-shit and threatens to take over the planet as a direct result of Amanda Waller’s endeavors to put together a team of supervillains to protect against the threat of any given supervillain’s efforts to take over the planet, which the movie never seems to acknowledge one way or the other. Personally, I think it’s when the supervillain team—the very same put together by Waller and her D.C. suits—finally gets around to trying to quell the threat of a separate supervillain who is, ostensibly, making a sporting go at taking over the world.
Some unknowable amount of time into Suicide Squad, you’ll eventually realize that it has, in fact, begun. By this time, you’ll have met its ragtag gang of unlikely heroes: heartless killer but loving father Deadshot, lunatic assassin Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and, to put it in Gilligan’s Island terms, “the rest.” It’s tough to say if the shortchanging of the eponymous motley crew’s remaining members is more or less significant a problem than its narrative chaos, largely because both missteps cater to the same result: a lack of understanding of how we’re supposed to feel at any given time throughout the movie.
Sometimes, this manifests in the logical, as the plot weaves together so haphazardly that you’ll occasionally feel impelled to ask, out loud, what might actually be going on. But it’s even more damning when this comes into play in the emotional. Occasionally, one member of the Squad will invoke the notion that he has warmed to the unlikely surrogate family with whom he’s been thrust into battle, though we spend so little time seeing these characters get to know one another that a greater suspension of disbelief is entailed toward the notion that they might actually care for one another than it does toward the fact that one of these people is also a giant lizard.
Such is the fatal error of Suicide Squad: this failure to put together a “squad” in sincerity. It’s an especial shame, as the varied members—Smith especially, and Jai Courtney (as Captain Boomerang) when he’s allotted screen time—are fun caricatures, and occasionally even empathetic. Robbie’s will more than likely be the performance you walk away from the movie talking about, as she commands the bulk of the camera’s attention, and plays up the kooky to superhuman levels. Though her material was far too often some variation of a “What are you lookin’ at?” gag, her dynamism was a reminder of what she can do with a character.
However, even the team’s strongest players play second fiddle to Cara Delevingne. Though not giving a performance as weighty a Smith’s, nor one as nuanced as Robbie’s, Delevingne’s turn as the recently revived ancient witch Enchantress is the sort of operatic, off-the-wall nerd fanfare that comic devotees have no doubt been missing in the grittier and goofier film adaptations of their favorite titles. Otherwise entrenched in a caustic and deliberately cool ambiance, Suicide Squad lifts to pleasantly weird strata when Enchantress goes total bananas and begins wreaking prehistoric havoc throughout the financial district of Middle City. Though time spent with Enchantress might be the fruitful source for genuine smiles, I’ve got to wish they expensed even some of this material in favor of more squad-building.
Suicide Squad is hardly absent of enjoyable pieces. Smith brings the lion’s share of character work, Robbie steals scenes even when her dialogue could use another rewrite, and I’ll be happy to see something half as bizarre as Enchantress in another blockbuster this year. However, it’s the apparent lack of strategy in putting together these pieces that undermines the lot, resulting in a good deal less than the sum of the film’s admittedly decent parts. With talents like Smith and Robbie and characters with as much potential as that displayed by Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), it’s a shame and a puzzler that the biggest letdown of Suicide Squad was its virtual squadlessness.
That or the Joker.
Rating: 2 out of 5 burritos.
Images: Warner Bros.
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor for Nerdist. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.